In­tegrity: to­wards a def­i­ni­tion

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY - Clin­ton Chisholm Clin­ton Chisholm is a the­olo­gian. Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­ and clintchis@ya­

SOMETIME BACK, I heard an ac­count, per­haps anec­do­tal or fic­ti­tious, about a man who was steal­ing elec­tric­ity. A friend re­buked him, say­ing, “Rob­bie, yu cyaan do dat, man, yu a rab rev­enue.” His an­gry re­ply was: “Rab rev­enue? Rab rev­enue? I waan ketch rev­enue fi stab im inna im [ex­ple­tives omit­ted].” A re­buffed chal­lenge re whole­some ethics and in­tegrity.

De­spite our par­lia­men­tary In­tegrity Com­mis­sion Act (2014) and the nec­es­sary and hard-work­ing Na­tional In­tegrity Ac­tion, which has full chap­ter sta­tus with Trans­parency In­ter­na­tional, most of us are still not ex­actly clear about a def­i­ni­tion of in­tegrity.

So whether we are laud­ing or chastis­ing a par­son, politi­cian, po­lice­man or Rob­bie about in­tegrity, we are in fuzzy-wuzzy land some­what. Sure, we all seem to be aware of the ba­sic fact that in­tegrity is con­trary to in­volve­ment in cor­rup­tion (i.e., do­ing what is not per­mit­ted by law or by estab­lished best prac­tices or so­ci­etal ideals).

I wish to of­fer some­thing to­wards a def­i­ni­tion of in­tegrity that the more knowl­edge­able can re­fine.

My work­ing ger­mi­nal def­i­ni­tion of in­tegrity is: whole­hearted, abid­ing faith­ful­ness to whole­some, abid­ing prin­ci­ples.

The eval­u­a­tive yard­stick means must be ‘whole­hearted, abid­ing faith­ful­ness’ be­cause half-hearted, oc­ca­sional faith­ful­ness to even whole­some abid­ing prin­ci­ples would be detri­men­tal and un­help­ful. We are all, at heart, de­sirous of ab­so­lute prin­ci­ples of right­ness and wrong­ness, even while we es­pouse rel­a­tivism (the view that there are no ab­so­lutes, i.e., there is no act or in­ten­tion which is al­ways right or wrong). Let the le­gal rel­a­tivist pon­der the ab­so­lutist oath so fun­da­men­tal to the courts!


With­out fixed goal­post mark­ers, we will kick around but never re­ally score! I like to il­lus­trate ideas with blunt, even ob­nox­ious, ex­am­ples. So per­sons in ro­man­tic re­la­tion­ships would not [nor­mally] be cool with a part­ner show­ing only oc­ca­sional ad­her­ence to ‘not sleep­ing with any­one else’, nei­ther is a com­pany’s hi­er­ar­chy ever at ease with em­ploy­ees show­ing only oc­ca­sional ad­her­ence to ‘not rob­bing the com­pany by fraud’.

Here’s a very mis­chievous one: Lec­tur­ers (most of whom de­spise ab­so­lutes) and ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions never ever al­low stu­dents to cheat on any exam. This is an un­recog­nised ab­so­lutist pol­icy! Life at its best, as de­sired by all of us deep down, de­mands whole­hearted, abid­ing faith­ful­ness to whole­some, abid­ing prin­ci­ples. That, I sug­gest, is the ir­re­duc­ible core of in­tegrity.

At the base of our woes, in terms of prin­ci­ples of in­di­vid­ual and group be­hav­iour, is our in­stinc­tive pref­er­ence for rel­a­tivism over ab­so­lutism, with­out ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the real cost of liv­ing on rel­a­tivism. Mind you, ab­so­lutism has it chal­lenges as well.

In a recorded lec­ture on ethics that I was in­vited to give at the Ja­maica The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary sev­eral years ago, and which I ti­tled ‘Eth­i­cal Prin­ci­ples & Prac­tices: A Two-edged Sword’, I said:

“At the level of eth­i­cal prac­tice, eth­i­cal rel­a­tivism is de­light­ful to live on but un­com­fort­able to live with. If I am eth­i­cally free to in­dulge my de­sires when­ever I so choose re­gard­less, then ev­ery other per­son is en­ti­tled to that lux­ury, even to my detri­ment.

“If eth­i­cal rel­a­tivism is de­fen­si­ble, the con­sis­tent rel­a­tivist could not in­stinc­tively or be­lat­edly ex­pe­ri­ence or ex­press out­rage at any so-called ‘wrong’, be­cause it could be right owing to the con­text in which it hap­pened. [For­get­ting law for the mo­ment] Rob the rel­a­tivist, swin­dle him in busi­ness, rape his wife, bug­ger his son, lie on him in court, etc. and he would be forced to grin and bear it be­cause any such act could be eth­i­cally right.

Why then the eth­i­cal furore over non-trans­parency in the award­ing of fat gov­ern­men­tal con­tracts [to sus­pect per­sons or com­pa­nies] if rel­a­tivism rules? Why the moral out­rage con­cern­ing com­pa­nies that use dou­ble-in­voic­ing to evade the tax man, vote-buy­ing, con­tract mur­ders, cheat­ing in ex­ams, evad­ing Cus­toms, mul­ti­ple-tax­a­tion laws, sex for pro­mo­tion, etc, if rel­a­tivism rules and is de­fen­si­ble as a the­ory of eth­i­cal de­ci­sion-mak­ing?”

In­tegrity, prop­erly de­fined, chal­lenges all of us deeply. I rest my case.


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